The Shooting Star Theatre, at 40 Peck Slip, must be complimented on one thing if nothing else: they provide little embroidered pillows for their seats, something that might come in handy, as their latest play, Twinges From the Fringe, is a bit long.
The work is divided into about nineteen blackout skits and begins with the hilarious Up Next, a parody of every angry radio talk show ever heard, and progresses through DonnyWorld, where a child-hating theme-park impresario snarkily named Donny Ostman offers rides that include kids being thrown off high buildings and into pools full of crocodiles for their edification, to Fun City, where a girl from the sticks shows up in New York dreaming of becoming a prostitute but is forced into acting instead. Other skits, like Men's, about a woman with a history of being stood up who meets another guy, cutely, outside a men's room, are more tenderly humorous, while the last skit, The Phlegm Expert, whose gleeful, eponymous character stars on a talk show with a very prim host, is, frankly, disgusting.
Three actors -- Colleen DeSalvo, Larry Rothman, and Gary Trahan -- performed these roles with panache, using only the hats and scarves hung on wall pegs to evoke their characters. DeSalvo was especially good, with her Frances McDormand jaw, pop-eyes, and often sad puppy face; she was amazing as a stoned hippie in Nixon; her aspiring prostitute was as moving as she was funny and dunderheaded; her store-robbing wife in Ittle Bittle Spat as intolerably chirpy and oblivious as the worst of the wives in any '50s sitcom. Trahan and Rothman were also funny as an overly mellow cable TV host and a surly chap in a big Elvis wig unhappily married to the goddess of love in Norman, and also good as bumbling French art thieves in Audience. These boys utterly ignored the Mona Lisa and a Van Gogh self-portrait, whose repros were cleverly hung on scrolls above the stage, to fixate on a wall-sized painting of impossible splendor that the audience couldn't see.
Ferrante's writing taps into all manner of cultural signifiers, from the Nixon era to the cult of celebrity in the brilliant Sinatragate, where Trahan's drunk, Russian homeless person declares that every President from FDR to little Bushie is actually Frank Sinatra.
Ferrante's direction was usually sure, though given the actors' rushing about, accents, and mugging, he sometimes directed them like a teacher at an intense session of an acting class. The props were chairs, tables, and benches that could be easily spirited away between skits, and Joshua M.L. Dunn's lighting was just as simple, usually a cone of light that fell on the action and left everything else in the murk, or shifting and blending spotlights that underscored the emotions, say, of the bickering husband and wife in Scene Analysis. The music was canned but appropriate. How can you not love a show that plays "One Toke Over the Line" just before Nixon? Twinges From the Fringe is worth seeing -- just watch out for the last act!
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Copyright 2002 Arlene McKanic